If you asked 100 people who struggle to balance their monthly budgets where they spend too much money, I would guess the number one answer they would give would be eating out. Too often there just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to plan meals, go grocery shopping, prepare the food and then clean up afterward.
A recent study, “The Truth About Dining Out,” conducted by OnePoll Marketing Research, provided some interesting facts. According to the study, men are far more likely to eat out regularly than women. In fact 10% of men report eating out at least once a day compared with only 2% of women. Men also spend more on eating out, averaging $82 per week compared with just $69 for women.
However, the statistic that stood out to me is which socio-economic group spends the most eating out. Surprisingly, it was not the super-wealthy, but instead the lower middle class. They spend an average of $117 per person per week or approximately 15% of their annual income.
As someone who loves to cook, I can’t imagine spending that portion of my hard-earned income on food I can make at home that’s better, cheaper and healthier. But, since I know not everyone shares my passion in the kitchen I thought I would provide a few quick suggestions that can hopefully make that call to Uber Eats a little less of a temptation.
First, use technology to make planning and shopping easier. Part of what is so time-consuming in planning out meals is deciding what you’re going to cook and then obtaining all the items at the grocery store. Retailers feel your pain and have come up with a variety of services to make this whole process easier.
Hy-Vee, for example, allows you to browse through lots of recipes on its website. Then with a single click you can add all of the ingredients required to cook that meal right to your online cart. Once done, you can have them available for pickup at the drive-through window, or for a small fee the store will deliver the order to your door.
E-meals is a similar subscription-based service that, in additional to providing meal planning ideas, gives you the ability to import your shopping list directly to Amazon or Walmart for quick and sometimes free delivery all through a single phone app.
Another tip to making dining at home easier is to prepare your meals in advance. If you’re like me, often after a long day at the office the last thing you want to do is spend an hour in a hot kitchen making things from scratch. However, with a little bit of forethought you can prep a week’s worth of food in a single setting on Sunday afternoons and then simply pop things in the oven, microwave or crockpot throughout the rest of the week. In fact, I have friends who will prepare multiple weeks’ worth of food in a single setting and then freeze individual portions for future use.
I know what many of you are thinking: “It’s not the cooking. It’s the cleanup.”
I have a few tips for that as well. Foil is your friend. Cooking things in foil bags and pans or lining existing cookware in heavy duty foil sheets is a great way to reduce or even eliminate cleanup. Consider using disposable plates as well. Yes, these things do create a little bit of extra waste, but nowhere near as much as ordering takeout.
I know the suggestions I’ve made are still more work that eating out, but it’s worth it. Outside of just the health and cost benefits, there is just something special about eating food with loved ones that you yourself have made.
(Advice is general in nature and not intended for specific situations.)
Luke Davis is the director of operations and compliance at Stewardship Capital in Independence.